Background: Appropriately aggressive treatment of haematological malignancies can be complicated by a variety of life threatening events. Despite high hospital mortality rates for such patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) it is now generally considered to be appropriate to offer intensive care to selected cases, provided there is a reasonable prospect of cure or at least worthwhile palliation.

Aims and Methods: We conducted a retrospective observational study to assess outcome and prognostic indicators in consecutive patients with hematological diseases admitted to the ICU during a 6-year-period.

Results: From 1996 through 2001, a total of 95 patients with hematological diseases and a median age of 57 years (range 16–86) were admitted to the ICU. The median duration of ICU stay was 1 day (mean 4.2 days: range 1–67 days). The Mean Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II (APACHE II) score was 20 (± 9). The large majority of patients underwent active treatment of a hematological malignancy (90%) with acute leukaemia (27%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (24%) and multiple myeloma (10%) dominating. Respiratory failure (46%), sepsis (24%), cardiovascular complications (9%) and bleeding disorders (7%) were the major reasons for ICU admission. A total of 49 patients (51%) had a microbiologically verified infection and 21 (22%) had bacteremia. Crude ICU, 4-week and 6-month mortality rates were 28%, 45%, and 57%, respectively. An APACHE II score > 30 predicted a high short-term mortality rate (p= 0.0001). However, age > 65 years, respiratory failure, bacteremia, and a diagnosis of acute leukemia were not significantly associated with a poor short-term survival (p> 0.05). A total of 30 patients (31%) were alive after a minimum follow up of 3.5 years.

Conclusion: The lower mortality rate as compared with most other series is probably explained by a more liberal attitude towards ICU admission. Not withstanding this, for a substantial proportion of critically ill hematological patients a short time care at an ICU is life saving. Patients with life threatening complications of haematological disease should be offered intensive care unless or until it is clear that there is no prospect of recovery from the acute illness or that the underlying malignancy cannot be controlled.

Author notes

Corresponding author

Sign in via your Institution